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Border settlement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brainwave to allow a transplantation of population in Arunachal Pradesh is a strategy that appears to have been only partially thought through. It appears to be moulded to the concept enunciated during border talks with China that populated areas would not be disturbed in any future border demarcation.

In Arunachal Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has spoken of populating the many open spaces that lie in that border State largely because of a policy of benign neglect followed by success governments in India in the past to slow down the momentum of any Chinese military thrust into Arunachal Pradesh just as it did in 1962 into Assam.

At the moment much of Arunachal Pradesh, a thickly forested State, is very thinly populated (approximately 17 persons per square kilometer). Announcing a policy of free entry to Indians by removing the Inner Line restrictions that forbid Indians from entering the area, Modi government is all set to make such restrictions redundant.

Though there was a valid reason for it at that time because of the British and China sponsored Naga insurgency and the possibility of South East Asian neighbors exploiting the natural resources of the North Eastern States of the Indian Union for their own personal gains (the British were protecting their own interests).

Within less than a month in office the BJP led government hinted more than once through different sources that it would encourage more settlements in the border areas. As recently as the last week of June the BJP’s state spokesman Techi Necha announced that the Home Ministry has allocated Rs 5,000 crore “to settle locals along the China border to prevent alleged incursions into Indian Territory by Chinese forces”.

Challenges

In a locale where the density of population is only 17 per square kilometer where are they going to find “locals” to transplant in virgin forest cover that exists in most of Arunachal Pradesh? Would anyone, who has lived his/her whole life in the land of their forefathers, be amenable to be transplanted into an area where infrastructure is minimal and there is a constant threat of China deciding to incorporate the whole of the state into the Tibetan Autonomous Region? It has in recent times insisted that Arunachal Pradesh is part of “south Tibet”.

The roads and bridges sanctioned about ten years ago are stated to be up to three years behind schedule because of the difficulty in cutting solid rock at nearly vertical heights. It is not only rocks that lie in the path of the bulldozers and motor graders but also virgin forests with many trees with a girth of more than four feet and in their prime. Having chewed up and digested most of the forest lands on its side of the Brahmaputra River the Chinese are itching to grab Arunachal Pradesh and exploit its water and forest resources to the detriment of the environment and disaster for the lower riparian states that depend on the Brahmaputra for sustenance.

Developing virgin lands for infrastructure for military purposes is long overdue in Arunachal Pradesh and no one will crib at either the expense or the effect on the environment (though there was enough noise in the media when road projects in Sikkim consumed a significant portion of the forest cover of the Himalayas in that part of the border area).

Any move to establish new settlements to fulfill the “settled areas” clause of the proposed Sino-Indian border agreement, Indian government should only go for such projects only after the completion of the road connectivity and the establishment of new Indo-Tibetan Border Police posts.
Trying to change the sequence could well provoke a Chinese reaction. Even the creation of infrastructure on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control has been objected by China in the central sector where it has just recently made a raid into the Pangong Lake area in Ladakh.

Road ahead

However, the need for making the border population part of the security structure has been felt necessary considering the tremendous development across the border by China which has constructed road, rail and air connectivity right up to the border.

Currently, India-administered territory up to 50 kilometers south of the disputed border is quite sparsely populated, owing to a lack of infrastructure. If the NDA government is able to make a concerted push to develop this area, then it is likely that villagers from across the region may choose to relocate.

The Government has already fast-tracked completion of projects started during the previous UPA regime. All money will be spent for developing border roads, building schools, hospitals, electrifying the border areas, establishing telephone lines, creating border outposts and providing all basic amenities for living and thereby encouraging people to settle in the border belt.

In addition, the Government has approved an increase in the deployment of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, a proposal made by the ITBP to the previous Government which chose to sit on it.

The Centre has already put on fast track completion of projects worth Rs 28,000 crore which were sanctioned during the UPA-1 regime but had a very tardy progress. As part of PM’s special economic package, UPA had in 2008 allocated Rs 37,000 crore for development of infrastructure in the region. Some of these projects were held up for environmental clearance and other administrative reasons.

The Rs 28,000 crore worth of projects included 4,100 km of roads, including the 1,800 km trans-Arunachal highway, border outposts, schools, hospitals and electrification of villages to encourage human settlements closer to the LAC.

Now the current government is likely to propose an additional allocation of Rs 5,000 crore in the Union budget for resettlement and rehabilitation of population in about 100 villages situated on the sensitive border.

The government is also concerned at lack of internet and telephone connectivity in more than 3,600 villages in Arunachal Pradesh and has put them on its priority list to increase the tele-density and digital penetration in at least 13 bordering districts of the state.

After a recent security review along the LAC, the prime minister’s office was apprised of an urgent need to provide tele and internet connectivity along the LAC. The move is considered important for security and disaster management purposes as most of the district headquarters at present are not connected by reliable tele-network.

All these 3,683 earmarked villages in the bordering districts will be provided with tele-connectivity either through village public telephone or digital satellite phone terminals.

There is significant infrastructural deficiency along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This is the reason the border population of the State abandoned their settlements and pushed as far as 50 km away from the border and settled in the foothills. The thinning out of the population along the LAC has made the area vulnerable to Chinese incursions.

Therefore the additional financial package will be a kind of incentive to the people who had abandoned their settlements closer to the border, to relocate to more accessible areas.

It is therefore heartening to note that the Modi Government has realized the urgency of the situation and wants it to be addressed at the earliest. Further With an Arunanchal Pardesh Minister in the Cabinet, it makes better sense to define a new Pro-Active policy towards North East.

The developmental plan of the border belt has to be reviewed in a big way. Even the new Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has made it clear that the Ministry will give fast-track clearances to infrastructural projects along the frontier in Arunachal Pradesh.

Even as part of the PM’s special economic package announced earlier and in efforts to develop north eastern states, two airports are being constructed at Tezu and Daporijo. The Tezu airport is expected to begin operation this year providing much needed air-connectivity to the state. For military operations, the work is under way to upgrade the Advanced Landing Grounds at Pasighat, Ziro, Aalo, Mechuka, Tuting, Walong, Vijoynagar and Tawang.

The right kind of planning and good governance will definitely serve the purpose of settling the population along LAC.